If…. (1968) | Lindsay Anderson’s surreal satire is still as subversive as ever – which side will you be on?
‘One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place’
At College House boarding school in Gloucestershire circa 1967, winter term reassembles. New boys like Jute (Sean Bury) are looked on as ‘scum’, and forced to ‘fag’ for the ‘whips’, upper sixth formers who have totalitarian control over the younger boys. Non-conformist lower sixth former Mick Travers (Malcolm McDowell) however, is a rebel with no respect for authority. Following a vicious caning, the young man’s resentment of the system explodes into total carnage as he and his companions-in-arms, Johnny (David Wood) and Wallace (Richard Warwick) take possession of a cache of guns…
‘What stands, if freedom fails?’
Lindsay Anderson‘s 1968 film If…. was the first in the director’s trilogy he made with writer David Sherwin satirising life in contemporary Britain, later continued in O Lucky Man! and Britiannia Hospital. Caustic, cautionary and incendiary, it made a star out of Malcolm McDowell and turned him into the poster boy for 1970s youthful rebellion (iconically cemented in A Clockwork Orange as sociopath droog Alex).
A powerful indictment of the public school system (and the country as a whole), If… is a like an updated Tom Brown’s School Days fused with a savagely surreal 1960s counterculture twist. Here, Lindsay uses all his cinematic skills to scrutinise and lay bare its barbaric rituals and class systems, while giving radical voice to Britain’s frustrated youth – and pre-empting the punk movement of the late 1970s in the process.
Winner of the 1969 Palme d’Or at Cannes, If…. is Anderson’s and Sherwin’s finest hour; a masterclass in story telling, character development and cinematic language; and one of the greatest British films ever made. As the quitessential tale of rebellion, it deserves to be discussed and dissected time and again, especially in light of the fact that atrocities committed by youths in schools are now a tragic present-day reality.
Oh, and did you know it’s also David Cameron’s favourite film – odd choice for a Conservative Prime Minister, don’t you think?
The UK Blu-ray release from Eureka! Entertainment, part of the Masters of Cinema Series, features a 1080p transfer, approved by cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek and assistant editor Ian Rakoff, in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and monaural audio, and includes the following extras.
• Audio commentary with film critic and historian David Robinson and actor Malcolm McDowell.
• New video interviews with producer Michael Medwin, writers David Sherwin and John Howlett, editor David Gladwell, production manager Gavrik Losey, camera operator Brian Harris, and actors David Wood, Hugh Thomas, Geoffrey Chater, Philip Bagenal, and Sean Bury (who went on to appear in The Abominable Dr Phibes).
• Three short films by Anderson: Three Installations (1952), Thursday’s Children (co-directed with Guy Brenton, 1954), and Henry (1955), which prove a real insight into Anderson’s visual language.
• Two US trailers.
• Booklet containing new writing by David Cairns; a new interview with actor Brian Pettifer; a self-conducted interview with Lindsay Anderson; notes on the three short films; and rare and archival imagery.